Louisiana’s voter rolls jumped by nearly 36,000 in the last two months of the registration period leading up to the Nov. 4 election, with more than half of the new voters opting for neither Democrat nor Republican designation, according to registration statistics released Wednesday.
“We have seen an inordinate amount of independents. They have been on the increase over Democrat and Republican registration for some time but not to this degree,” said Secretary of State Tom Schedler. “That’s something that jumps off the page to me.”
“It kind of changes the dynamics of it,” said Schedler, referring to the election.
Schedler said more analysis needs to be done to determine what’s behind the increase in independents — whether it’s strictly new voters or Democrats and Republicans who switched registration because of frustration over party politics.
Schedler’s office Wednesday certified 2.93 million voters eligible to participate in the Nov. 4 election in which a U.S. Senate seat and 14 constitutional amendments are on the statewide ballot.
The breakdown by political party: 46.7 percent Democrat, 27.6 percent Republican and 25.5 percent other party or no party designation. The breakdown by race: 64 percent white, 31 percent black and 5 percent Hispanic, Asian or other race.
Louisiana has trended Republican in statewide elections in recent years, despite the GOP having just over one-fourth of the registered voters.
All the officials elected statewide, except U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, are Republicans as are five of the six congressmen. Republicans hold majorities in both the Louisiana House and the state Senate.
The increase in voters came as state Democratic and Republican groups and candidates held registration drives and rallies to get more of their supporters signed up.
Voter turnout is especially important in the U.S. Senate race, in which veteran Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu is facing a major Republican challenge from U.S. Rep. Bill Cassidy, of Baton Rouge. If polls are to be believed, Cassidy will end up in a December runoff with Landrieu ahead of fellow Republican Rob Maness, who is backed by tea parties.
Stephen Handwerk, executive director of the Louisiana Democratic Party, said in a prepared statement late Wednesday: “The numbers that have been released show that Democrats are just as motivated to turn out this year as Republicans. There is no ‘enthusiasm gap’ in Louisiana.”
Louisiana residents shying away from either mainstream political party could be the key.
“The independent voter is the big swing vote in this election,” said University of Louisiana at Lafayette political scientist G. Pearson Cross. “They could hold the balance of power in a tight election. This looks more and more like a turnout race.”
State Republican Party executive director Jason Doré said the GOP thinks it is positioned well to beat Landrieu. He said there are 68,702 more Republican voters and 171,000 fewer Democrats compared to when Landrieu ran six years ago.
Doré said the increase in other party or no party registration “clearly means we need to reach out and talk to them ... Some of the people who register as no party are not interested politically at all, don’t participate or go vote but others are really independent.”
Democrats and Republican Party registrations increased between Aug. 1 and the close of the voter rolls, by 9,525 and 7,505 respectively.
But other party registrants went up 18,888, more than half of them white voters but a goodly number — 7,803 — black voters.
Meanwhile, the number of black registered voters increased 18,912 while white voters increased 14,347 and other race by 2,659.
“The number (of new independents) is stunningly high,” said Elliot Stonecipher, Shreveport elections consultant and demographer. “That has to be disaffection with the message of the Democrats and Republicans.” The trend has been happening for quite some time “but it’s compressed and dramatic” with the latest registered voter report.
Stonecipher said recent polling also shows a high level of undecided voters in the Senate race. “There are ‘all bets are off’ kind of things going on here. I don’t know what’s going to happen Nov. 4,” he said.
The increase in black voters is good news for Landrieu, said political consultant Roy Fletcher. But, he said, “she has to turn them out” to vote.
“It comes down to voter turnout, who gets their ground game going,” said Schedler.